Bears

Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

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Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

The Cubs were in damage-control mode on Thursday, with Tom Ricketts releasing a statement distancing his franchise from racially divisive issues.

The Cubs had woken up to a New York Times report linking the chairmans father, Joe, to potential attack ads against President Obama funded by a super PAC. The head of the Ricketts family issued a statement rejecting those plans.

The Ending Spending campaign message comes at a politically sensitive time, as the Cubs try to lobby government officials for help with renovating Wrigley Field.

Against that backdrop, Chicago will be hosting the always unpredictable series between the Cubs and White Sox, as well as the NATO summit that will bring an increased security presence around the city this weekend.

The bomb-sniffing dogs were out at Wrigley Field earlier this week (though thats been seen at the stadium before).

Whether its Carlos Zambrano being restrained from Derrek Lee in the dugout, or Michael Barrett punching A.J. Pierzynski at home plate, or Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella talking trash, or fans going after each other in the stands, this usually reaches a boiling point.

Whenever youre involved in these kind of series, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, theres way more tension than in any other series. Thats just a part of it. Am I going to sit here and say: Is anything gonna happen? No, but theres completely different emotions that go on (here) that you dont have in regular series.

So whether its emotions from the fans, emotions from playersits just a whole nother level of baseball.

Sveum and Robin Ventura his former teammate and current counterpart on the South Side are low-key, first-year managers that try to project a sense of calm and dont provide bulletin-board material.

Guillen loved the attention and loved this environment, ripping Wrigley Field and the rats he claimed were running around inside.

If Guillen hadnt taken his talents to South Beach, you could have asked him about the renovations plans or the White Sox fan in the White House.

Thats supposed to be off-limits now for Guillen. Last month in Little Havana the day after the Miami Marlins manager returned from his suspension for making comments about Fidel Castro he was asked how different the crosstown series will be without him.

It will be a big media event still, Guillen said. I tell a lot of people: Besides playing in the World Series or playoffs, thats the closest youre going to get, when you play White Sox-Cubs in town.

A lot of people talk about New York, St. Louis. No, I think (about) that series in Chicago. People take it very seriously and thats a big event in town.

The Cubs and White Sox reportedly might not be guaranteed the same six-game split between Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field next year, when the Houston Astros move to the American League and interleague play rolls on throughout the season.

As a player, its 162 games, every ones important, Cubs utility man Jeff Baker said. Theres not too many outside of Opening Day (and) the playoffs where you really get overexcited. If you lose to the White Sox, its the same as losing to the Reds. (But) its not stale by any means.

On the flip side of that, for the fans, its awesome. Its water-cooler discussion. You see people at gas stations yelling at each other when youre filling up (the car). I know the city likes it and the city appreciates it, so I dont want to say as players its stale to us. We still get up for it. Its still fun. But I think it means a lot more to the fans.

Really, youve seen fans yelling at each other at the gas station?

I have, Baker said. I was picking up family out at Midway (in 2010). There were some Cubs fans out there. (Obviously, that areas) predominantly White Sox fans. They were yelling at each other. It was kind of funny. I kind of pumped my gas quickly and got (away) in my car.

The Bulls and Blackhawks have already been eliminated from the playoffs, and the Bears are weeks away from training camp. This city is going to start focusing on their two sub-.500 baseball teams.

You got to root for someone now, said Jeff Samardzija, who gets the start for the Cubs on Friday. I guess you got to pick the North or the South.

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

1. Get production from receivers not named Allen Robinson. 

Robinson can expect to be followed all game by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s limited opposing receivers to nine catches on 20 targets in his last three games (a sampling of those receivers: Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, D.J. Chark). So if Robinson isn’t open, it likely will have less to do with his own play and more the play of one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. 

With that in mind, Sunday will be a significant test for the Bears’ other pass catchers. This team’s offensive identity was supposed to be steeped in an ability to spread the ball around to guys like Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Trey Burton, but so far this season, the only thing the Bears have proven to do well is get the ball to Robinson. That absolutely has to change on Sunday. 

Miller feels primed for a breakout game after ditching his shoulder harness, while Gabriel is back from a concussion suffered on the final catch of his explosive three touchdown game in Week 3 against Washington. Those two guys need to show up, and the Bears need to better scheme plays for Cohen, who’s averaging 4.5 yards per touch — lower than his average in 2017 with Dowell Loggains calling the plays. 

Robinson still could have a productive day — he’s that good — but the Bears shouldn’t count on it.

2. Hold your own against the Saints’ front. 

The Saints are outstanding at affecting quarterbacks without blitzing, with their 76 pressures ranking second in the NFL — this for a team that’s only blitzing on 22 percent of its defensive snaps. And of those 76 pressures, 63 have come from defensive linemen. 

Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan have been monsters this year, combining for eight sacks while consistently generating that pressure off the edge. Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie will need need to have their best games of 2019 to keep them away from Mitch Trubisky, but the interior of the Bears’ line will have its hands full, too. David Onyemata, Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins all have at least one sack, putting an onus on Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward and/or Ted Larsen to keep those guys out of Trubisky’s face.

If not, Trubisky will have a difficult time getting comfortable and going through his progressions, which could lead to some forced/panicked throws...which could be jumped by Lattimore or another one of the Saints' defensive backs.   

3. Get game-wrecking plays on defense.

The thought here is Sunday’s game will be a tight defensive battle, with the game swinging on which team gets a turnover deep in its opponent territory. For the Bears, that means coming up with the kind of game-wrecking play (or plays) we’ve come to expect from this defense. 

Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked on only 16.7 percent of his drop-backs (24th, per PFF), though, with tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead among the best pass blockers at their position in the NFL. It’ll be a fascinating matchup for Khalil Mack, who will need to be at his best to beat the Saints’ best and “sack the football,” as he’s so good at doing. Or maybe Sunday is time for Eddie Jackson to get his first interception of the season (though he’s only been thrown at about two times per game, down from his average of nearly three times per game in 2018). 

However the Bears’ defense does it, they need to do it in a game in which their offense very well could struggle to move the ball. 

Prediction: Saints 13, Bears 9. 

While the Saints will be without future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, star do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara and reliable tight end Jared Cook, this is a team should have the advantage at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense (the Bears, of course, will be without Akiem Hicks and might start a greenhorn at right guard in Coward). That advantage matters greatly in close games, in which grinding out a few yards here and there will become critical, especially in the fourth quarter.

And too, Sean Payton has built a strong coach of the year case for how he’s guided the Saints to an undefeated record without Brees. The Saints are playing a strong brand of complementary football, with a ball security-based offense and a defense that’s progressively got better this year (punter Thomas Morstead, for what it’s worth, is outstanding and shouldn’t be completely overlooked). 

So the Saints will arrive at Soldier Field undermanned, but with an advantage at the line of scrimmage and on the sideline. And those will be enough for New Orleans to emerge with a win, sending the Bears to 3-3 in the process. 

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Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with NOLA.com's Luke Johnson

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USA Today

Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with NOLA.com's Luke Johnson

JJ Stankevitz is joined by New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune Saints beat writer Luke Johnson to preview Sunday's game at Soldier Field, starting with why the Saints have been able to keep winning without Drew Brees (1:29). JJ runs his concerns about the Bears' offense going against the Saints' defense by Luke (4:28) before getting into how New Orleans is viewing Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and Chicago's lagging offense (8:17). Luke then explains the impact of Alvin Kamara's absence (10:40) and why Teddy Bridgewater has been so effective since tagging in for Brees (14:55).

Listen here or via the embedded player below: